Many regard the Natwest Series final win in 2002 as a turning point for Indian cricket. The winds of change that started with India’s series win over Australia at home in 2001 were culminating into a bit of a storm in 2002 as the team had started playing with more belief than ever. Under Sourav Ganguly, India were winning both home and away. They chased 325 at Lord’s in an ODI, they defeated England by an innings in tough conditions at Headingley, both unthinkable feats in the 90s. This was an exciting and expressive team with a core composed of promising youngsters like Yuvraj Singh, Harbhajan Singh, Virender Sehwag, Mohammad Kaif and Zaheer Khan; guided by wise old hands like Sachin Tendulkar and Rahul Dravid and backed to the hilt by a furiously competitive skipper in Ganguly.
The ICC Champions Trophy in 2002 gave further chance to the Indian team to prove their calibre. This was the third edition of the tournament, although the first two were known as the ICC KnockOut Trophy. India was supposed to host the tournament originally but it went to Sri Lanka after Indian government refused to provide tax exemptions to ICC.
Sri Lanka started as pre-tournament favourites. Captain Sanath Jayasuriya was in prime form and had a batting line up oozing with the class of Marvan Atapattu, Aravinda de Silva, Mahela Jayawardena and Kumar Sangakkara. Their slow bowlers knew how to use the sluggish home pitches to full advantage. Australia were always among the top contenders in any tournament they played at that time while South Africa had experience and all-round ability, even though questions remained over their performance in crunch games.
India, like Sri Lanka, boasted of batting class and spin bowling pedigree. Add to that, India’s part-time spinners were as good as frontline bowlers in these conditions and gave Ganguly loads of options. Yuvraj and Kaif were two livewires in the team capable of turning matches with their inspirational fielding.
Sri Lanka dominated Pakistan in the first game of the tournament, bowling Pakistan out for 200 and then chasing the target with ease. Captain Jayasuriya led the way with an unbeaten hundred.
India, in contrast, got a double scare against Zimbabwe. Batting first, India were 87 for 5 at one stage when Kaif and Dravid rescued them with some patient rebuilding. Dravid was in the middle of the most productive phase of his batting career. He was patiently compiling a mountain of runs in Test cricket and expertly guiding India in the middle overs in ODIs. Not to mention, his wicketkeeping gave India the balance that they lacked without a genuine all-rounder.
Batting at number 7, Kaif was turning into India’s man of crisis. The early batting collapse meant that he got a chance to bat long enough to score his first hundred for India. During the chase, Andy Flower relished the chance to inflict further punishment on his favourite foes over the last two years with a masterful 145 but his team fell just short of the target.
India’s next match was against England who probably hadn’t recovered from the mental scars of Natwest Series final loss. They posted a handy 269 batting first, only to be blown away by an onslaught from India’s openers, Sehwag and Ganguly who scored a hundred each.
Australia and South Africa won their pools comfortably for a semi-final showdown with Sri Lanka and India respectively.
In the first semi-final, Sehwag and Ganguly gave India a customary flying start but the innings lost momentum after losing Laxman and Sehwag in quick succession after the fielding restrictions were over. Dravid and Yuvraj took India to a respectable 261. South Africa, in reply, were cruising at 192 for 1 with Gibbs batting on 116, his second hundred of the tournament, when he had to retire hurt due to dehydration. His team was still in command needing just 70 more runs with more than 12 overs to go. But under Ganguly, this team had acquired great ability to bounce back and seized on the tiniest of openings.
Yuvraj Singh’s full stretch leap to dismiss Jonty Rhodes after his stunner earlier in the inning to dismiss Smith would have broken the internet if YouTube was as popular in those days as it is today.
Ganguly then pulled another rabbit out of the hat by introducing Sehwag into the attack in the 42nd over to tighten the screws around South African batsmen. Jacques Kallis got stuck at one end while Boeta Dippenaar and Mark Boucher both got out attempting big shots. The slowness of the pitch meant Lance Klusener could never get going and India sealed an unlikely win for a berth in the final.
The impact of spinners on the second semi-final was even more dramatic. De Silva bowled his 10 overs for just 16 runs against hapless Australians batting first. Kumar Dharmasena and Muttiah Muralitharan picked up the wickets to bundle Australia out for 162 — a target Sri Lankan batsmen chased down without breaking into a sweat.
The weather and tournament fortunes went all downhill from there as Sri Lanka and India couldn’t get a complete game despite attempting twice. Sri Lanka batted first on both the occasions and posted 244 and 222. India never got to bat enough overs to take a judgement on which team was ahead when rain interfered, although both Jayasuriya and Ganguly claimed their team had a better chance of winning in a completed game.
The trophy and the prize money was shared by India and Sri Lanka, the first and only ICC trophy without a clear winner. The outcome was anti-climactic for fans of both teams as the trophy had a hollow ring to it with another team getting to lay its hands on it. Some prizes just aren’t meant to shared. Probably, that’s the reason no one talks about it while discussing Ganguly’s achievements as a captain, this was his only ICC trophy win after all.
For India, this tournament was a preview of things to come in 2003 World Cup. Ganguly staked a rightful claim at being the second best team in the world after Australia who were pretty much unstoppable in those times. The dry run of winning formulae and team combinations that were done during this tournament were all repeated in South Africa, barring one minor exception of a certain Sachin Tendulkar opening the batting in 2003.
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Updated Date: May 29, 2017 14:39:45 IST